I always listen to The Moth on Sundays.
Today the last story was about how important the story-teller's grandmother had been to him, his family, and, maybe, due to the story being broadcast, to the world.
It got me remembering my two grandmothers.
I remember them all the time, and I am 80 years old, so they had fairly significant impact on me.
They had that impact in so many ways it would be boring to here enumerate them.
But one way that stands at the front of the line of memories is food.
Both my grandmothers were great cooks.
They came from completely different places and cooked completely different things.
So I was beneficiary of a cosmically curated menu.
Grammy Lill was from Lansing Michigan.
She supposedly was secretary to Walter Chrysler.
Grammy McKeehan was from Tara Haut Indianna.
I think her mother was a widowed seamstress.
What I DO know is that they both could cook.
And their grandson has never ceased to thank them and remember their cooking.
Here is my story about Grammy Lill.
I'll get to Grammy McKeehan on another day.
"My mother’s mother was a great cook. My mother’s unwillingness to cater to children’s desire for processed foods infused with sugar and fat had come from fairly stern stock. Grammy Lill cooked a rump roast that was the epitome of well done roast beef. Her standing rib roast was the epitome of rare roast beef. Unlike my mother, Grammy Lill believed in dessert most days. But they were mostly fruit pies. They had both a bottom and a top crust. She didn’t believe in cobbler. There was just enough sugar in them to set off the flavor of the apples, blackberries, or cherries. She didn’t believe in peach pies. That’s probably why my mother excelled in making peach pies. She also made chocolate pudding from scratch. They were dark, chocolaty and wonderfully semi-sweet. Grammy Lill believed in desserts but she kept a tight lid on the sugar."
I don't have written, or in oral tradition, anywhere any recipe that Grammy Lill used to produce.
But I have been able to recreate enough of them to write them down and allow them to slip into the beginning of their third century.
Here is one of them.
Grammy Lill’s Potato Cakes
Another thing that Grammy Lill made that I didn’t mention in Screen Saver was potato cakes. I never forgot them, but I never thought of making them until I was an adult. But by that time I had adopted the diet that I outlined in Screen Saver, and that diet did not include potatoes. It didn’t include bread, rice or beer either. In fact it was based on the near absence of carbohydrates.
But one day after a number of years of being on the diet – it was the day after Thanksgiving, one of the few days of the year that I abandoned the non carbohydrate nature of my life and ate mashed potatoes and gravy, so we had an ample supply of left over mashed potatoes that were about to be thrown out – I remembered those potato cakes. And then I just couldn’t forget them again. I mentioned them to Mysti answering her questions about what they really were with a description: “ unbelievably patatoey, moist center soaked in butter with a dry dark brown crust". She added to my lack of ability to forget them. She wanted some.
The problem was that Grammy was dead and had not left a recipe.
So I made up what I thought would approximate what she had made. I made a couple really small batches, each of which went through some additions from their starting point. And into the second batch what I took out of the cast iron frying pan was, as near as my taste buds could recall, my grandmother’s potato cakes. We wolfed down vast quantities of them, and I have been making them during Thanksgiving and Christmas ever since.
3 cups of mashed potatoes
2 cups of flour
Mix the potatoes and flour in a bowl.
Add the eggs and mix in so that the mix becomes uniformly yellow.
Turn the mix onto a heavily floured pastry cloth.
Knead the mix several times, blending in the flour until the mix gets a little dryer and more spongy.
Flatten the mix into a square slab about a half inch thick.
Cut into squares.
Into a pre-heated (medium high) dry – no oil - cast iron fry pan put one of the squares as a test run.
You want the square to end up with almost burned – quite dark brown – crusts. To get that result you need to get the correct heat and need to employ multiple turns of the squares to get that result. You can’t just put them in turn them once and get the desired result. When they are correctly done they have the dark brown crust and the inside will be hot and moist – not sticky.
When the test square has gotten to the described state set it aside on a warm plate, in a warm oven and do the rest of the squares. You probably will have had to adjust the heat in the process of conducting the test. When you get that heat level, don’t change it. It is probably going to be pretty hot but not maximum high.
Put the finished squares on the warm plate, split put in a pat of butter, put them back together, serve and eat. I have bacon with them. A steak would be good as an alternative.